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Chicago to Carbondale

Outdoors & Regional

6 Days 277 Miles


Carbondale, Effingham, Centralia, Homewood, Champaign, Kankakee, Chicago

Three times a day, trains depart Union Station in Chicago and head south for Carbondale. Step back in time to the golden age of train travel and settle in for a peaceful ride on an iconic train route toward some of Illinois’ most charming towns and hidden treasures.

Day 1: If you have time for one thing when visiting Homewood, it should be a round of golf.


  • A golf course

In the 1870s, the town’s country clubs commissioned trains just to bring golfers to its pristine greens. Perhaps the most popular place to putt in town is the Ravisloe Country Club’s public course, named the 20thbest course in the U.S. by Golf Advisor.

Day 2: The next stop is Kankakee, which has a perfect blend of rural and urban influences.


  • A river

The beautiful Kankakee River winds through the town, and is a great backdrop for relaxation and outdoor activities all year long. Some of the top spots to take in the beauty are at the Kankakee County Historical and Art Museum, or the Kankakee River State Park. The 4,000-acre park can be found on both sides of the Kankakee River offering unspoiled nature views. You can hike, kayak, fish and bike surrounded by scenic bluffs and woods. If you brought your clubs with you from Homewood, the Kankakee Elks Country Club is right on the banks of the Kankakee River. It’s a golf course with a dense forest, dotted with challenging holes, perfect for novice or expert golfers. After golfing, explore the architectural history and find a Frank Lloyd Wright gem. Take a tour of the B. Harley Bradley House, Wright’s first Prairie-style home built in 1900. Plus, the views are beautiful since it’s right along the Kankakee River.

Day 3: You will never be bored in the city of Champaign.


  • People reading and eating outside shops along street

From cheering on the Fighting Illini at University of Illinois sporting events, to festivals and family-friendly events hosted by the Champaign Park District, there’s something for everyone, all easily accessible from the train station.

Champaign is also a town known for its foodie culture. Located right next to the train station, your first stop should be Black Dog Smoke & Ale House, a local favorite that is equally well known beyond the city’s borders. Stop in to enjoy the great barbeque and craft brews in a casual setting. For a real treat, go early and snag the burnt ends – the tenderest part of the brisket.  And if you’re a farm-to-table fan, look no further than Big Grove Tavern downtown, where just about everything served is made from scratch, using seasonal ingredients, and sourced locally to support Champaign’s farming community.

For more off-the-beaten-path flavor, head to Prairie Fruit Farms & Creamery where you can try seasonal farm-to table dinners, award-winning goat cheeses, goat milk gelato and organic fruits. And you won’t want to pack up without trying honey from Curtis Orchard, voted the number one honey in the world! Curtis Orchard also boasts a seasonal apple orchard, pumpkin patch and entertainment farm with mazes and petting zoo. Beyond honey, they sell delicious pies, fritters, apple crisp donuts and award-winning cider.

Day 4: The jewel of Effingham, a small agricultural community off the rail line, is the picturesque Lake Sara, a scene of tranquility and home to the Sara’s Sanctuary wellness retreat.


  • Sunset lake

Experience utter relaxation and rejuvenation at Sara’s Sanctuary thanks to a host of spa services including therapeutic massage, aromatherapy, yoga and meditation. Each retreat has a limit of eight participants and four sleeping rooms, so you’ll experience plenty of TLC.

More relaxation waits in the heart of Effingham at the Tuscan Hills Winery, located on eight picturesque acres. The wine tastings are a must for friends and group tours. Also, if you’re looking for some great eats, a visit to Effingham’s famous Firefly Grill will not disappoint. This farm-to-table restaurant creates fresh American cuisine with a menu that rotates daily. They use local ingredients whenever possible and even grow food in their backyard. The result is amazing flavor in every dish!

If you’re a vintage or car lover, Mid America Motorworks is perfect for you. Each year, they welcome thousands of Corvette and Volkswagen enthusiasts for Funfests in June and September. The event features cars, music, a retail store and more, and has become a famous entertainment destination.

Day 5: A can’t miss stop for fans of top-notch sips and spirits.


  • Hot air balloon

Centralia is home to award-winning cider from Schwartz Orchard, handcrafted Illinois wines from Crooked Creek Winery and locally brewed IPA beers and seasonal specialties from Makraft Brewing Company.

If you brought the kids along, Centralia has plenty of fun for the whole family. The Centralia Balloon Festival features over 40 colorful hot air balloons in the skies, a car show, fireworks and plenty of other activities for kids. Another great event, The International Carillon Festival, features carillonneurs from all over the world who play the unique instrument. Listen to the bells chime as you eat a picnic dinner in the park and take in the fresh air.

Day 6: There is no shortage of attractions in Carbondale, the last stop along this train route before it crosses the state line.


  • Forest

Train enthusiasts will find plenty to read and explore at the Old Illinois Passenger Depot Railroad Museum. Walking through each exhibit you’ll find new and fascinating information about the history of Illinois passenger rail travel, as well as a number of vintage artifacts and souvenirs. You can even get the chance to ring the bell of one of the original train cars from the Illinois Central Railroad!

If relaxing on the train cars and rolling through Illinois’ scenic rural countryside has you feeling antsy to get outside and explore, lace up your hiking boots, pack up a picnic basket filled with Illinois Made goodies and explore the natural wonders of Carbondale at the Marberry Arboretum. The gorgeous trails through flower beds at the Arboretum will leave you feeling refreshed and invigorated.

The Giant City State Park also offers unlimited opportunities to see breathtaking natural beauty. There’s something for everyone from picnicking and fishing to rock climbing, rappelling and horse-back riding. You can be as adventurous as you want! Reward yourself after a day of exploring at the Giant City Lodge – Southern Illinois’ hospitality at its best. Their incredible restaurant has famous fried chicken baskets that are among the best in all of Illinois! Chicago isn’t the only city that has great pizza – if you’re in the mood for deep dish pizza, be sure to check out Quatro’s Deep Pan Pizza which has a famous pizza crust and Italian beef sandwiches.

After some amazing food, you’ll want to stop for drinks at Grand River Spirits. This locally-owned craft whisky distillery is home to some of the best spirits in all of Southern Illinois.  When you’re ready to turn in for the day, the Cabins on Indian Creek are the perfect blend of cozy and rustic. The cabins have a log cabin look with luxury amenities including a full kitchen, luxury baths, and beautiful indoor and outdoor entertaining areas. Wake up and refuel at the Blend Tea and Crepe Lounge with delicious coffee, fresh brewed teas and a wide array of eats from scratch pastries and crepes to salads and sandwiches.

If you want to delve into the local culture of Carbondale, support the Southern Illinois University Salukis! Students, residents and visitors come together to cheer on the Saluki men and women teams at the 15,000-seat Saluki Stadium football stadium and Davies Gym as they fight for wins. Their mascot name comes from one of the oldest dog breeds, an Egyptian hunting dog, and they are certainly one of Carbondale’s greatest prides.

Encounter heartland nostalgia and dive into the history of American railroads as you travel along one of the country’s most famous rail lines. You don’t have to take this train all the way to its namesake destination to experience something amazing.

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